State News in Brief
Ill. Finance Compromise Signed
Gov. Jim Edgar of Illinois has signed a Republican-backed bill dispensing $52.5 million in grants to school districts and calling for tougher testing, stronger academic standards, and tightened school security.
"If Illinois is to remain an economic giant in the nation's heartland, we must continue to offer a high-quality workforce," the GOP governor said in a statement. "This comprehensive education-reform package will help us meet that very important challenge."
The flat grants are a compromise proposed by lawmakers who balked at the governor's call for a drastic school-finance reform. The new funding will be based on the number of students in each district, rather than on financial need, the state's usual way of determining funding.
Although a $23 million safety net in the new law ensures that no district will receive less money from the state this year than last, critics say the legislation favors wealthy, well-financed districts over poorer ones and fails to address the widening disparity of funding in Illinois schools.
"This legislation is a Band-Aid. It doesn't at all address the funding problems, which so badly need to be addressed," said Illinois Federation of Teachers spokeswoman Gail Purkey. "State support continues to fall, and localities are told to pick up more and more of the burden."
In addition to the new funding, the law will require students who fail to pass diagnostic tests in the 3rd and 5th grades to enroll in remedial programs, establish exit exams in core subjects for high school seniors, and give broad authority to school officials searching for drugs and weapons on school property.
The governor also signed a bill that would set new hiring and job-performance standards for Chicago school principals. He used his amendatory veto to allow new charter schools to apply for any state or federal funds except for Goals 2000 aid, which would have to get approval from a local school board.
Mr. Edgar also instructed the legislature to rework a bill revising lawmakers' privilege of granting two free four-year college scholarships each year. He said lawmakers should reveal not only the names of the recipients but also their addresses and the amounts of the awards.
N.M. Gov. Seeks More Tests
Gov. Gary Johnson wants the New Mexico state school board to approve statewide achievement tests for all students in grades K-12.
Mr. Johnson said the initial tests would set a benchmark. Subsequent tests would track improvement. The program would cost $1.5 million a year.
"Testing will establish accountability, and it will set in motion continuous improvement," Mr. Johnson said last month in a statement. "Objective testing for the student is the same as the stopwatch for the athlete."
Observers say it is anybody's guess how the board will respond to the governor's proposal. Mr. Johnson holds limited influence over the panel.
"He hopes that the public will push this issue," said Diane Kinderwater, a spokeswoman for the Republican governor.
A former businessman, Mr. Johnson "hears all the time that businesses are not happy with the product coming out of public schools," Ms. Kinderwater added.
New Mexico students now take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills in grades 3, 5, and 8.
Mo. Voters Reject Higher Debt
Stymieing an attempt to create more space for schools, Missouri voters have rejected a ballot measure that would have eased statewide restrictions on the amount of debt school districts are allowed to incur.
The proposed constitutional amendment called for lifting the ceiling on a district's bonded indebtedness from 10 percent of its property-tax base's assessed value to 15 percent of that value. Local voters would still have had to approve bond sales.
Fast-growing suburbs outside St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield, many of which are approaching or have hit their debt limits, were among those eager for the higher ceiling. Other districts that stood to benefit were property-poor rural districts that have trouble raising funds to update their buildings.
But 55 percent of voters turned thumbs down to the proposal in a statewide referendum Aug. 9. The measure's rejection took many supporters by surprise because it had sailed through the legislature with little organized opposition.
Brent Ghan, the public-affairs director of the Missouri School Boards Association, attributed the defeat to voters' unfamiliarity with it and their perception that it would lead directly or indirectly to higher taxes.
Ohio Ends Teacher Certificates
Under a new state law, Ohio teachers will receive teaching licenses rather than certificates.
The law, which contains a host of changes to the teacher education and licensure system, will discontinue permanent certification. Teachers instead will have to meet professional-development requirements in order to renew their licenses, under the legislation signed by Republican Gov. George V. Voinovich in July.
The state board of education is scheduled to hold a hearing Sept. 9 to discuss guidelines for the new standards. The legislature will have to approve the rules proposed by the board.